Six years ago, when Vancouver, B.C., native Vicki Ng moved to Portland, she left behind one of the most important things in her life: her sister, Vanessa.
The two are “just one and a half years apart and best friends,” says Vanessa Ng. So, of course, she didn’t stay behind for long. Three years later she made the move herself, and the two transplants quickly figured out that the best way to get to know a city is through its food scene.
“It was funny because when we first moved to Portland, Vanessa would come to visit for an extended weekend and we’d eat around town,” says Vicki. “By the time she moved here, she had a better grasp of the scene than I did.”
Vanessa doesn’t argue with that. “I’m really obsessed with what’s opening, who’s doing what, what chef is where. My friends would be like, ‘How do you already know this stuff?’”
Of course, like most modern food obsessives, they couldn’t resist documenting each delicious bite with a photo, and in 2017 their Instagram account @foodbellypdx was born, quickly growing to over 10,000 followers in two short years.
“We’re tourists in our own backyard,” says Vanessa, “and that really resonated with folks.”
The sisters recently played tourist again, embarking on a weekend trip through the Portland Region and the Willamette Valley, a journey that takes just an hour by car but seemed like a whole other time zone to this duo.
“It felt like we had gone to a completely different state,” says Vanessa. “On the last day we were like, ‘Shouldn’t we be going to an airport?’ We felt like we had traveled so far. But it was really just a 45-minute drive back home.”
Follow along on their trip as they discover the incredible sights, as well as the delicious plates and pours, waiting just outside city limits.
Carts and Curiosities
Vanessa and Vicki’s adventures began, predictably, with a meal. They drove to the year-old BG’s Food Cartel in Beaverton, a cart pod packed with over 30 different vendors serving up everything from empanadas and poke to avocado shakes.
“Beaverton has the space and square footage for something this big,” says Vanessa. “It has a seating area with an indoor/outdoor bar, a stage for live music, and proper bathrooms.”
They chowed on waffles from Smaaken, then headed next door to a vintage mall called Curiosities, which you may recognize from its appearance in Aidy Bryant’s “Shrill” on Hulu. The mall holds retro finds from more than 60 vendors. “It’s massive,” Vanessa says. “It has all this cool stuff.”
Then it was onward and westward to a Tuscan-style hilltop winery. They stopped at the LIVE-certified Apolloni Vineyards for a little late-afternoon wine tasting and a tour of the barrel cave. “It felt like you were in Italy,” says Vanessa. “They described how they’re making wine with their Italian heritage in mind. And they have a big oak tree you can sit under and relax.”
Their destination for the night was McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, but PJs and sleep would have to wait. There’s just way too much fun to be had at the eccentric, sprawling hotel. “We had a blast exploring all the levels and floors and amenities,” Vanessa says. “They have a bar with live music, a living room theater, a huge outdoor seating area where we had dinner — Cajun tots, of course. Those are our favorites. And we hit up the soaking pool that night. You can grab a drink and just hang out in the pool.”
But they’ll never forget the hotel’s “attic” on the third floor, known for its secret rooms and passages. “We had such a fun time freaking each other out,” says Vanessa. “You can just push a wall and it opens up and takes you to a glow-in-the-dark room with psychedelic mushrooms on the wall.”
“There are so many quirky details,” says Vicki. “We could’ve spent all our time exploring them. It was really fun.”
Food and Wine
“As much as we are foodies, some things we didn’t grow up with can be unfamiliar, and we’ve found the best way to learn is to chat with the staff,” says Vanessa. “Our server was great. She gave us the rundown on things like poi [taro root paste] and manapua [pork-filled buns], which was cool.”
From there the North Willamette Valley wine country towns of Dayton and Newberg were just a 40-minute drive south on bucolic country roads. They hit Durant Vineyards, where they got to taste wines and tour the adjoining Red Ridge Oregon Olive Mill, then poked around in the gourmet gift shop.
The adorable town of Albany, about 25 miles south of Salem, was their final destination for the day. The sisters arrived in time for dinner at Sybaris Bistro, where European-inspired dishes with inventive twists are built on local, organic ingredients. “Most of the ingredients come from Albany,” says Vicki. “They don’t even travel more than half an hour to get to the tables.”
After a night in the Phoenix Inn Suites, they made a beeline for brunch. “Vicki found a place called Brick and Mortar Cafe that has a great Bloody Mary bar,” says Vanessa. “We had a solid meal of chicken and waffles, crepes, and huevos rancheros.”
They walked it all off at Albany’s Monteith Riverpark along the Willamette River, hatching plans to come back soon with blankets and a picnic basket to catch one of the River Rhythms outdoor summer concerts.
Then they took their time exploring the nearby Albany Carousel and Museum, where admission is free and ride tokens cost only $2. “We were blown away,” says Vicki. “There’s a huge sense of community about it. It took 14 years to go live, from creation to inception, and it’s 100% funded by volunteers. One animal could take five years to build, because they’re all made by locals who might only be able to come on the weekends. It’s a working art in progress.”
And because each carousel animal is handmade, they often sport charming personal details you won’t find anywhere else. “The names of grandkids were worked into the striped pattern of a tiger. And there’s a bear with glasses holding an eye chart, because the guy who sponsored it was an optometrist. The whole thing is really quirky and great.”
The sisters rode the carousel several times, making sure to ride Taffy the Alpaca before venturing north to visit the real alpacas at Marquam Hill Ranch, east of Woodburn.
In addition to a gift shop and occasional alpaca yoga classes, the farm offers tours nearly every day by advance reservation. The best part? You get to feed the fluffy, friendly critters. “Jennifer, the owner, sat us down in chairs and put some food in bowls, and they all came sprinting and galloping at us,” laughs Vanessa. “We were like, ‘Holy smokes!’”
Their last stop before heading home was the Benedictine Brewery at Mount AngelAbbey, with its light-filled taproom and expansive outdoor patio. The resident monks brew the ales in the self-sufficient monastic tradition, with water from the abbey’s wells and hops grown on-site.
“I loved it,” says Vanessa. “Everything was new to us. We had been to the typical places, like the big wineries, but on this trip we got to see other sides to the region, like a monastic brewery on a hill. It definitely opened our eyes.”